Some children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have auditory processing difficulties and/or expressive and receptive language challenges. These students may have difficulty with comprehension of verbal information and expression of their wants and needs. Concrete visual teaching methods are required to ensure students can understand and express language (may comprise of pictures, words, or both). Visual supports help increase language comprehension, provide environmental expectations (e.g., rules, activity schedules, etc.), and structure. Visual supports help children with ASD to communicate and allow abstract concepts to become more concreate; however, the strategies will additionally help a variety of other students within the class.
When setting up a classroom for September, teachers may wish to consider some of the following suggestions:
- Label each area of the classroom. Although younger grades may have more variety within different areas (e.g., a break area, quiet area, centers area, reading area, carpet time area, etc.), there are areas in secondary grades that can also be labelled (e.g., break area, computer area, etc.).
- Use a class-wide visual schedule. As students become aware of upcoming activities and tasks, predictability is increased while anxiety and challenging behaviours decrease.
- Label supplies within the classroom (e.g., art supplies, books, different bins, toys, etc.). If a student is asked to retrieve an item or clean up, they can determine the location of the item without adult prompting. Since the supplies will be in one location, students eventually learn where items are located based on the visual supports.
Additionally, other students and adults who work in the classroom will benefit.
- Provide within-activity visual schedules for various areas. For example, if students are expected to shut down the computer after use or provide log in information, a small visual support that demonstrates how to complete the task can be placed above the computer. It is important not to assume all students will remember how to execute those tasks from memory. Other examples include, a clean up visual in the play area, remove shoes before the student enters the classroom door, specific instruction for different centers, etc.
- Keep important visuals close to the classroom door. A stop sign to remind students to stop before they leave, a bathroom and water visual can be used for students with limited expressive language, or a line up and wait visual can help students remember to line up when they leave the room.
- Classroom expectations should be placed in the classroom for all students to see. Some students are not able to remember the rules and may need frequent visual reminders.
- Use a visual timer to represent time in the classroom. Many children have difficulty with the abstract concept of time and a visual representation will alleviate consistent inquires. It can also reduce anxiety when the student is aware how much time remains in an activity.
- Use a choice board for students to pick an item as a reinforcer, a reward, or a task to complete. Other students with expressive language challenges will benefit from a visual choice board.
Regardless whether you choose to implement one or all of the suggestions, it is important to recognize that students with ASD will require additional visual supports within the classroom. Teachers have indicated when they use visual supports to help with ASD students, more students tend to rely on the visuals as well.